Sunday, August 26, 2012

Towers Watson Study: Canadian employers failing workers..losing productivity

To be highly engaged in today’s challenging workplace, employees must also be given the capability to excel (which we call enablement) and the capacity to maintain their efforts over time, (which we call energy). Employers are failing to create this combination of discretionary effort, enablement, and energy — the combination that forms sustainable engagement and yields a significant performance advantage over time. (From Ofelia Isabel's piece in National Post/Montreal Gazette, August 21, 2012, below)
We have heard, too often, that the market place generally is reactive, and in nano-second dimensions.
That means too things: first, it never takes action to prevent a problem, only to "correct" a problem after it has become evident, and too costly to ignore and
second, short-term thinking is really an oxymoron, especially in the world of business. (It is really a non-starter as well as a non-sequitor!)
Canadian culture, as epitomized by such systems as the health care system, is so bent on frugality, even penuriousness that we elevate the Auditor General to the highest point on the value scale of civil servants (excluding many with legitimate, pragmatic and useful visions for the country!)

Businesses, naturally in the Canadian context, are more interested in "saving" or in "cutting costs" than in making decisions that would be demonstrably more useful in generating both enablement and energy and hence increased productivity.
Canadian business leaders sabotage their own businesses, albeit with impunity and anonymity, through such Scrooge-like thinking and policy-making, and "administrative" implementation, giving all three an elevated "importance" verging on the sacred. Business leaders scream at the mention of increased spending to enhance worker performance, which obviously includes worker enablement and energy, and, like too many church mice (archetypally epitomized in the hundreds of church treasurers who keep a tight-fisted grip on the purse strings, thereby emasculating any attempt at real ministry and any hope of either enablement or energy from people in the pews, a non-literal transliteration of the hope promised by a Resurrected and forgiving Christ!).
While U.S. pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research, a clear abdication of their professional, ethical and moral obligations, Canadian companies, for the most part, run to the hills at the mention of sprucing up their marketing campaigns, believing I guess, that to do so would only be "sexing" up their presentation. How dreadfully dungy is such thinking.
People, workers in any organization, are the beating heart of that organization. And if the organization is operating on a shoe-string mentality, really a poverty/victim/scrooge mentality, all workers, just like as children in any family, will instantly and intimately know that truth, and operate accordingly.
What does "accordingly" mean in this context?
It means doing nothing more than is the minimum needed to keep the job.
It means doing nothing to contribute to the potential excellence of the company's performance.
It means doing nothing to generate a discussion of current practices, policies and attitudes, in order to avoid being dubbed a "trouble-maker"....we are bankrupting our companies most important resource..the imaginations of the people in the employ of those organizations, through our studious avoidance of those resources.
And it also means that "minimum" itself is a reducing equation, based on a disengagement of worker from organization.
In the administrative texts, it was a man named Macgregor who dubbed these issues "the human side of enterprise" in his discussion of leadership: initiating action and enabling, encouraging and energizing the workers.
Some workers, such as scientists in their labs, or surgeons in their operating rooms, or many athletes in their arenas, would likely do their work enthusiastically "for the love of it" because of their innate passion and commitment to their chosen calling.
Hundreds of thousands, even millions, however, do work "they have to do" to pay the bills. Consequently, the attitude of their employers is critical to their health, both literally and figuratively, and directly and indirectly impacts the health care budgets of every province and the country generally.
Employers who consider their workers as little more than a "high-maintenance machine" that gets sick, stays home, makes mistakes, causes friction, requires benefits and refuses to offer useful and profitable suggestions are quite literally "blind" to the resources they are blocking from the success of their enterprise. And resistance to change, "because this is the way we've always done it" is one of the most common rationalizations that covers this prejudice, this blindness, this 'false superiority' of management.
Look at any organization for the way it relates to the brightest among its workers, and you will be able to read the balance sheet, without even opening the hard disc on which it is written. Those who listen, encourage, enable and energize the people, all the workers, will have a balance sheet that is both growing and greener, in both environmental and profit-measures, as well as fewer absentees, fewer complaints, fewer conflicts to resolve, fewer mistakes and accidents, and better prospects for investors.
Such thinking, the non-listening, non-encouraging, non-engaging, non-enabling, and non-energizing also has its own decline in performance on the part of its leadership: less expectation, less information, less listening, less respect and less valuing of the work force...and that is another spiral that the piece below does not mention. And when we  communicate with our workers only when they "screw-up" and therefore only in negative terms and punishments, we are, in fact, encouraging, by our mishandling of the issue, more screw-ups, to feed the files of the workers whom we seek to dismiss.
Enabled, energized and sustained workers have fewer accidents, fewer customer/client complaints, fewer problems with co-workers, fewer complaints about their workplace and fewer illnesses.
It only makes "business" sense to pay attention to these dynamics, and we all know that the business schools are not "schooling" their graduates in these disciplines with the kind of vigour they give to "investor relations" for example.
And with fewer than 33% of Canadian workers being currently enabled and energized (sustained) it is little wonder that our productivity lags, and our health care bills are spiking, while we smuggly plod along blind to our own resistance to the positive potential influence of "the other".
It is a national pandemic that includes government, business, education and the public sectors.
Sad, but true.
And how much did it cost for the study that disclosed what we all know before hand, but did not have the "authority" to be considered worth listening to?
Canadian workers lacking resources and engagement needed to get job done
By Ofelia Isabel, National Post, in Montreal Gazette, August 21, 2012
Ofelia Isabel is Towers Watson’s Canadian leader for talent and rewards.
Canada’s productivity gap continues to present questions for organizations trying to become more competitive.
Towers Watson’s latest study of employee attitudes and concerns around the world, which included more than a thousand Canadians, reveals what could be a hidden contributing factor: a lack of sustainable engagement in the Canadian workforce.
Traditionally, engagement has been recognized as employees’ willingness to give discretionary effort to their jobs. While most employers intuitively understand the value of an engaged workforce (and many have programs in place to measure and support engagement), the research shows the steps organizations are taking to improve engagement are falling short.
What organizations fail to take into account is that engagement today concerns more than giving extra effort. To be highly engaged in today’s challenging workplace, employees must also be given the capability to excel (which we call enablement) and the capacity to maintain their efforts over time, (which we call energy). Employers are failing to create this combination of discretionary effort, enablement, and energy — the combination that forms sustainable engagement and yields a significant performance advantage over time.
Sustainable engagement matters because it is the proverbial canary in the productivity mine
Sustainable engagement is at risk globally due to prolonged economic turmoil and work environments in which people have been doing more with less, and for less, for more than half a decade — and Canada is no exception. Prospects for improvement anytime in the near future seem limited. The result is a workforce that is anxious, stressed and risk averse. These are not good traits for a company or a country trying to grow.
Sustainable engagement matters because it is the proverbial canary in the productivity mine. A growing body of evidence — both empirical and anecdotal — shows the clear value of sustaining engagement over time.
When we look at productivity and retention metrics relative to sustainable engagement, we see that organizations with high levels of sustainable engagement have less absenteeism and lower “presenteeism” (lost productivity at work) than those with high levels of disengagement. Organizations with high sustainable engagement also have less trouble retaining employees than those with disengaged workforces.
In Canada, the advantages are startling for companies whose workforce exhibits high sustainable engagement. Companies lose an average of 8.8 days annually to presenteeism for employees with high sustainable engagement versus 17.7 days for the disengaged. For absenteeism, companies lose an average of three days per year for employees with high sustainable engagement versus nearly six days for the disengaged.
And when it comes to the important productivity measure of employee retention (losing experienced employees is a significant drain on productivity), only 14% of sustainably engaged employees in Canada are high-retention risks compared with 58% of disengaged employees.
How do sustainable engagement data fall to the bottom line? Towers Watson studied the performance of a group of 50 global corporations and compared their engagement data with their specific financial results. Those with the highest level of sustainable engagement had average operating margins three times greater than those organizations with low levels of engagement.
The disturbing issue for Canada, considering how sustainable engagement affects absenteeism, presenteeism and retention, is that only 33% of Canadian workers are sustainably engaged.
But there is good news for Canadian employers: An additional 24% of workers are considered “the unsupported” — engaged in the traditional sense (willing to put in the effort) but stymied by organizational barriers to enablement and energy. Canadian workers either don’t have the tools and resources to do the job, or don’t have the capacity to do it. That presents a huge opportunity for employers to take measures to address the productivity needs of their employees, and to think about managing to sustainable engagement — a far more robust 21st century form of engagement.
Among sustainable engagement’s three components (traditional engagement, enablement and energy), the most actionable focus area for addressing the unsupported is enablement. Driving enablement entails removing the barriers that make it easier for the unsupported to become sustainably engaged. It requires giving employees the tools, resources and support to get work done efficiently.
Examples of enabling unsupported employees might include prioritizing and organizing work for employees whether they are in the office or working from a remote office thousands of miles away. It might include making sure employees have access to efficient technology that works. It could be encouraging and rewarding a collegial work team that is ready to jump in to help; or, providing online tools and processes — with ready guidance and support — that give workers access to information to make rapid job-related decisions that promote customer satisfaction.
Energy, the third leg of sustainable engagement, entails actively supporting employees’ physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being. In this kind of environment, people come to work early and stay late, not simply because they have to, but because they’re involved in what they’re doing.
To move a larger group of employees into the sustainable engagement camp, employers need to understand and respond to what drives sustainable engagement in their organizations. The particulars will be unique for every company, but we know the top drivers of sustainable engagement among Canadian workers are related to leadership effectiveness, stress management and work-life balance, and career development. Employers need to involve their employees at every level — leader, supervisors, human resource officials and departments and employees themselves — in addressing these areas.
There is a real imperative for change right now. The way companies do business is undergoing radical shifts, but our people-management programs and practices have not kept pace. The risks of continuing to manage the traditional way are just too great from a performance perspective.
Ofelia Isabel is Towers Watson’s Canadian leader for talent and rewards.
© The Financial Post
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